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Ignore female-on-male harassment at your peril

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Most often, sexual harassment involves a man’s inappropriate behavior directed toward a woman. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore female-on-male harassment.

Simply put, both sexes are entitled to a workplace free of sexual harassment—and employers are obligated to stop such harassment when they find out about it.

Recent case: When Rudolpho Lamas went to work for Prospect Airport Services, he was a recent widower and a devout Christian. A married woman was one of his co-workers. Almost immediately, she began making advances toward Lamas, sending him suggestive notes. Lamas told her to stop, but she continued.

He complained to his immediate supervisor, who told him she would talk to the co-worker. She never did. By the time Lamas got the third love note, which suggested a sexual encounter, he was distraught. He went higher up the chain of command.

Unfortunately, a Prospect executive merely told Lamas he should be happy and walk around singing “I’m too sexy for my shirt.” Clearly, the workplace expected men to welcome sexually aggressive women.

The co-worker continued to approach Lamas daily, even enlisting other co-workers to help. Then rumors started circulating that Lamas must be gay. His work performance deteriorated, and he was eventually fired.

He complained to the EEOC, which took up his case. A district court dismissed the lawsuit, but the EEOC appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and won a reversal.

The court said it was appalled by the behavior the employer had allowed. It said men are also entitled to Title VII protection from a sexually hostile work environment. In this case, the court said it was clear the employer knew what was happening, but did nothing. (EEOC v. Prospect Airport Services, No. 07-17221, 9th Cir., 2010)

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